Muslims and Europe

Whatever Happened to the Divine Peace?

Will Muslims suffer exclusion in Europe as a result of terrorism? Iranian journalist and expert Navid Kermani tackles this question in light of the recent terrorist attacks on Madrid.

Will Muslims suffer exclusion in Europe as a result of terrorism? Journalist and Iran expert Navid Kermani tackles this question in light of the recent terrorist attacks on Madrid.

Photo: Larissa Bender
Navid Kermani

​​Let’s be quite clear about one thing: if Muslim terrorism spreads throughout Europe and people here become afraid to get on trains, let their children go to school on their own, or go to pop concerts, it will quickly become apparent that the tolerant circles in which Europe’s minorities now move with more ease than they have ever done before in the history of the continent, are not as tolerant as they seemed.

The reaction to terrorism in Europe might turn out to be even tougher and more irrational than in the United States - maybe not in the policies of all European states, but definitely in the minds of the people.

The reason being that the United States has not overcome ‘identity mania’ because as a country of immigrants, it has never encountered it in any comparable form.

Because Europe’s moral standards were set so incredibly high by the Enlightenment they potentially have further to fall. We were reminded of this fact only a few years ago when Christian Serbs waged war against the Muslims no more than 300 km south of Munich.

Terrorism can hit anyone at any time

It is not a question of statistics. Even in Israel, whose present may be offering us a terrible foretaste of Europe’s future, where terrorist attacks have virtually become a weekly occurrence, people are still much more likely to die of cancer or in a car accident than as a result of a bomb attack.

Nevertheless, terrorism has become part of reality for every mother and every bus driver. Terrorism, which - in line with all predictions and, once unleashed, cannot be stopped by even the cleverest of policies - would appear to have reached Europe last week, should not be compared with illnesses, environmental catastrophes or accidents. Terrorism is not about numbers. It is about the opportunity of hitting anyone at any time so as to paralyse minds.

Us and them

Once fear has lodged itself in our minds, calm and rationale will win very few elections. When Muslims are the perpetrators, it is of little use to point out that they are also indiscriminately killing Muslims.

In other words, they do not select their victims according to their religion. We will then start dividing neighbours, immigrants, and states according to their religion and distinguishing between "us" and "them". When this happens, the simple fact that they are Muslims will exclude them from becoming part of the European "us".

The question as to whether Islam is part of Europe or not - which is the subject of heated debates in Germany on the issues of nationality, headscarves, and whether Turkey should be allowed into the European Union - remains unanswered. And it will not be answered to the detriment of those that belong to the same collective as the perpetrators after this first major terrorist attack. At least not yet. But it won’t take ten attacks to change the situation either.

Koran cassettes as a lead

We are told that the greatest clue that the attacks were perpetrated by Islamists is a cassette with Koran verses that was found in a small van along with seven detonators and traces of explosives.

So the murderers listened to the Koran on the way to the sites of the attack. But maybe they didn’t listen to the cassette. Maybe they left it in the van on purpose as a single clue for the investigators and the public: no explanation, no reason; just the Koran.

When every jumped-up author in Germany who has just happened to read a newspaper article or, at most, one of the many dubious expert warnings written by people like Bassam Tibi, feels capable of giving a fatwa about the faith of my grandparents, whose tolerance is not committed to the spirit of western enlightenment and the General Declaration of Human Rights, but instead to the greatest spirit of all, that of the Almighty, I shrug my shoulders.

Moreover, the four or five Koran verses about the infidels and women that top the list of the most-cited Koran verses in letters from German readers leave me cold. It takes me no time at all to use arguments to defuse the scandalous aspect of these verses. Be that as it may, I cannot ignore the Koran cassette in the small van.

An Islam that portrays itself as the enemy

Almost all Muslims in this country and most experts in Islamic studies are angry about the distorted image of Islam that is being painted by the media.

However, this image would never have come to the fore were it not for the fact that numerous Muslims - terrorists, theologians, and heads of state - exactly fit the caricature of Islam that is so objectionable to the faithful and those who know Islam. There may indeed be people who consider Islam to be the enemy. But what is worse is that there is an Islam that portrays itself as the enemy.

I would like to know to which Koran reciters the murderers were listening in their van. It is highly unlikely that the cassette they left behind featured one of the particularly melodic reciters, whose popularity in the Arab world is only comparable to that of pop stars in the West.

Puritanical or Wahabite Islam, to which the murders probably belonged, on the other hand, consider such artistic interpretations of the word of God to be heresy.

However, Islamic tradition says that a divine peace - a sakeenah, which is something akin to the Jewish Shekinah - descends on all those who are present wherever the Koran is recited. This must also apply to Wahabite Koran recitations. I think that God himself will be left to explain just what happened to his divine peace in this case.

Navid Kermani

Published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on 15 March 2004 © DIZ München GmbH

Translation from German: Aingeal Flanagan

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